Democratic Congressional Candidate Forum

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New York’s Third Congressional District primary election is on Aug. 23

On Aug. 2, the Democratic Congressional candidates came together in a forum in an attempt to persuade voters to allow their campaign to move past the primary. The excitement started right at the entrance to the forum. Outside of Syosset High School, people stood chanting for Josh Lafazan or holding signs for Robert Zimmerman.
There was no calming of energies when the forum began. People would applaud loudly for their candidate of choice as they opened up with their opinion. The loudest applause was awarded to Lafazan, who had started his career on the Syosset school board at age 18. However, his appearance also brought along the loudest opposition. A young man in the crowd stood up to scream that Lafazan is a Republican who serves himself and not the rest of the community. He was then escorted out so the forum could continue.

The Democratic Congressional Candidates for District 3. (Photo by Emma Duffy)

The forum then started by allowing each candidate to say the legislation most important to them. To start, Melanie D’Arrigo said she would focus on standing against government corruption, supporting the working class, pushing for Medicare for All, taking back reproductive rights and ending gun violence. Next, Jon Kaiman established his focus on controlling inflation and aiding the economy, fixing the issues that have been brought up by the Supreme Court and investing in infrastructure.
After this, Lafazan explained the importance of codifying Roe v. Wade and stopping gun violence. Reema Rasool spoke next, showing her passion to represent the people instead of lobbyist groups, pushing for Roe v. Wade and helping small businesses. Last but not least was Zimmerman who strongly believed in trying to “save our democracy” by addressing corruption, supporting Medicare for All, standing against gun violence, codifying Roe v. Wade and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
After this there were more direct questions chosen from the audience. There were many topics of interest: whether the candidates were willing to accept donations from “dark money” groups, how these candidates differ from “establishment” Democrats that have failed people in the past, the closing of Syosset’s Mercy First Residential foster care, plans for public education, how they will address inflation, gun control and policing, Medicare for All, how they would deal with a Republican-run house, and their take on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Many answers were seemingly straightforward with most of the candidates sharing a similar view. All candidates would like to speak with those involved with Syosset’s Mercy First to see what could be done. All agree that education is important and they would like to see more resources and funding given to public schools. They all feel that more needs to be done for gun control, similar to many Democrats. During a time of polarization, it seems as though these candidates would be willing to work across the aisle with Republicans who would be willing to work with them. Similarly, all of the candidates believe in helping our ally Israel and finding peace in the area.
Even though many answers were standard, the night wasn’t free of controversy or more answers from the candidates. At one point, Kaiman took a shot at Lafazan for overemphasizing his won elections, because even though he won the most recent election, Kaiman has won more in his career.
“You know, I lost my last election running for Congress against somebody, but I tell you I’ve won more than this guy did,” Kaiman said.
A question called out Lafazan’s flip-flopping opinion of policing, which caused him to focus on gun control over addressing the policing issue—in which everyone followed his lead.
Rasool and D’Arrigo set themselves apart on the inflation question by saying it is not just inflation, but corporate greed.
“If this is inflation, then why do all of these big companies keep making insane and record profits quarter on quarter?” Rasool said.
D’Arrigo called out Lafazan for saying he wants to strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA), saying it is not enough.
“When you hear people say ‘I want to strengthen the ACA’, it sounds good right? You know, it means they want to give money to the insurance companies,” D’Arrgio said.

Forum attendees holding up signs before the forum began. (Photo by Emma Duffy)

People were heated in the discussion of where it is acceptable to take donations from. The moments of controversy were short and fast passing, making it just small moments in a two hour long forum.
The three men spent their night emphasizing their experience and connections. Kaiman showed pride in his past as five-term supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead, Deputy County Executive of Nassau County and NYS advisor for Superstorm Sandy. He felt as though his time at these positions has made him especially qualified in understanding the intricacies of government and how to negotiate with the other side.
“I believe this moment calls for a person with substance and depth and experience,” Kaiman said.
Lafazan is younger, but got his start early on, feeling as though he is the one who undoubtedly has what it takes to win the general election. So far, Lafazan has not only held a position on the school board, but has also won a seat in the Nassau County Legislature.
“We held that seat because I’m the candidate who pulls together a coalition to get things done,” Lafazan said.
Zimmerman stood apart with his 20 years as a part of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and time on Capitol Hill as a Congressional staffer and advisor. Along with his experience, Zimmerman shows that history would be made as the first representative for this district to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’m proud to be a Democrat and trying to stand up for democratic values, and with all of us together, we can turn it into real action,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman is not the only trailblazer. There has never been a female representative for District 3 of New York, making it so Rasool or D’Arrigo could be the first. D’Arrigo has the backing of various interest groups that she promises to push for, proving that she is doing this to represent and support the people. She wants to have proper representation in government and feels she could bring that to people.
“Every policy that I’ve been fighting for is people centered,” D’Arrigo said.
Rasool also intends to be a representative for the people. She is a first-generation American Muslim who is not a career politician, but wants to make a difference.
“I am not happy with the way things are going and I just decided that instead of complaining and whining that I was going to do something about it,” Rasool said.
The second part of the debate was a lightning round that gave candidates a chance to give short responses to non-political questions. This led to Zimmerman saying if he was a DJ he would like to be called “Rapmaster Zim,” Rasool to say the ugliest vegetable she knows is a bittermelon and Kaiman to fail to think of a word to describe Lafazan. Although entertaining, Lafazan described the endeavor as “bizarre” and to those in the audience it came off as nothing but a failed attempt to personalize the candidates.
Hopefully the candidates were able to sway some voters, considering that moderator and accomplished journalist Karina Mitchell announced that 48 percent of Democratic voters surveyed are unsure of how they will be voting in the primary.
As a whole, this group of candidates seem more than willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work to help their district. With the primaries coming up, now is the time for democratic citizens to go out and vote for which candidate they think is best for their community. The primary vote is on Aug. 23.

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